|Taco de carnitas, limon y chile verde|
|Taco de vegan carnitas|
|Blistered jalapeños with course sea salt|
Comfort food: to many that conjures up thoughts of baked mac 'n' cheese, meatloaf, fried chicken, etc. But for me growing up in Southern California Mexican food would be considered my comfort cuisine (yeah that's right, I'm greedily claiming the whole damn cuisine, not just a dish!). Whenever I visit back home I always made sure to hit up my favorite Mexican restaurants. I've even been known to have my mom carry on Mexican food when flying cross country to visit me (Thanks, mom!). As well as having access to authentic Mexican restaurants as a child my dad's younger brother married a Mexican woman, my wonderful Aunt Patsy. I will always remember watching her stand over the stove make refried beans, her iconic thick ebony hair swooshing across her back every time she went to reach forsomething. I couldn't wait to come over for family get-togethers. There is nothing quite like a Mexican barbecue during the dog days of Southern California summers. Lots of grilled food, fruit, cerveza (which I was too young to drink....booooo) and swimming pools. When I wasn't poolside noshing on something my uncle just pulled off the grill I liked go to my favorite hole in the wall Mexican restaurant, Tacos Mexico. They serve their tacos on minature yellow corn tortillas, choice of meat, and a humble but delicious cilantro and onion salsa (cilantro y cebolla). In addition you can garnish your taco with your choice of pickled carrots and jalapeño (Chile en escabeche), salsa verde, pico de gallo, salsa roja, and lime wedges.
While I would order all their different tacos, one of my favorites was carnitas, Spanish for little meats. Carnitas is shredded pork that has traditionally been slow braised in its own fat (lard), myriads of different spices such as: dried chiles, onions, garlic, cinnamon, and cumin. While I've only actually seen carnitas made once, by one very gregarious chef during culinary school, it was some of the best carnitas I've ever had. He braised I don't even know how many pounds of pork shoulder in pure lard but with one very interesting twist: cola. Yep, that's right, syrupy sweet coca-cola was his secret ingredient.
While I no longer eat carnitas, let alone any animal products I had the craving for some comfort food: Tacos de Carnitas. When deciding to veganize "little meats", I pulled my Chef's secret ingredient out of my back pocket. However, instead of using classic Coca-Cola, I used cola made from evaporated cane sugar, sans the high fructose corn syrup (eek!). Just like Tacos Mexico, I topped my tacos de vegan carnitas with a simple cilantro y cebolla salsa, and finished the plate with lime wedges, and blistered jalapeños that were heavy handedly sprinkle of course sea salt (in honor of my uncle's primo grillmanship). Serve with a cold glass of horchata or cerveza with salt and lime. Delicioso!
Seitan Carnitas: seitan/ cinnamon stick/ yellow or white onion; rough chop/ orange juice, fresh squeezed preferably/ bay leaves, whole/ vegetable broth paste/ garlic clove/ whole smoke-dried chile*/ cane cola.
1. Because seitan is not easily shredable use a sharp knife cut your seitan into thin strips to mimic shredded pork. You should have enough for at least 2C. of "shredded" seitan.
2. In a large pot add the juice of one medium-large orange (the pulp is fine) or approximately 4oz. of orange juice, 1t. vegetable broth paste like this, and 6 oz of cane cola. Using a fork, dissolve the veggie broth paste into the liquid.
3. Add into the liquid one cinnamon stick, a .25 of a large yellow or white onion roughly chopped, 2 bay leaves, 2 garlic cloves, crushed but not diced, one large smoke- dried chile, loosely broken up, and the seitan. It is important to leave the spices and such in large pieces as they will need to be fished out of the seitan when done cooking.
4. Bring to a simmer and cook until the liquid has been absorbed. About 20 minutes or so.
5. When cool enough to the touch, separate the seitan from the other ingredients. Set seitan aside and discard the rest.
6. Add to your favorite dish such as tacos, burritos, tortas, etc.
*If whole smoke-dried chiles are not available in your area, feel free to substitute the best chile powder you can find.